Virtually Reality

I tossed and turned much of the night, thoughts racing about everything I needed to do in the morning. Would I be able to sleep if I made a To-Do list instead of worrying that I might forget an important task? My nearly sixty-year-old hands were semi-frozen into arthritic claws from yesterday’s hard work and would require a session of finger-yoga before agile enough to grip a pen or make a note in my smartphone. Better to hope my equally old memory could retain every detail on the growing index of tasks. So, I continued to toss and turn.

Upon awakening, I worked at limbering my hands, particularly my thumbs, by opening and closing, clenching and flexing. Mentally running through my chores, I was satisfied that nothing appeared to have fallen off the agenda. It was time to attack my jam-packed schedule.

I needed to design a garden, buy the flowers and shrubs, then get everything planted. There were shells to collect, bugs to catch, and high-value fish to find. I needed to shop for new clothes then change for the day. With the recent addition on my house, I hoped to find furniture to decorate. It was time to recruit someone to move to my island so I could improve my rating. A house needed to be relocated. I had to donate a fossil to the museum. And, it was time to sell all of my acquisitions to Nook’s Cranny for top dollar bell. You see, I’ve been striving to unlock the terra-forming app, which would allow me to reroute waterways and construct/destroy cliffs since I created my avatar on Animal Crossing New Horizons.

Just hangin’ in my virtual diner. How about that jukebox?

What virtual alternate reality am I living in, you might wonder. Animal Crossing is the genius Nintendo video invention that was first released in 2001. When my son turned eight, his efforts to convince his video game wary mother that it was imperative for him to get a Game Cube initially fell on indifferent ears. I poo-pooed his pleas for Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda. Then the boy told me about Animal Crossing, a sweet game of slow-paced tasks and fun interactions between my character and the humanlike animals. He showed me the sales pitch on the computer and insisted that even someone as old as me would love this game. He promised that if I bought him the gaming system, he would split it with me so I could delve into a world where the most stressful thought was whether I could pull a whale shark from the ocean or if I’d scare it away. Smart kid.

I became a devotee of Animal Crossing from the outset. Kicking back with a glass of wine, I loved doing relaxing chores that allowed me to earn currency to pay the mortgage on my ever-expanding home. I could decorate with a heart-themed bed and dresser or change it up with rustic furniture made from logs. Effortlessly, I could replace the yellow and white striped wall-covering to one with bold blue flowers or transform the concrete floor into pine hardwood. Under the guidance of my thumbs on the joystick controls, I could dig and plant a flourishing garden in under a minute. I installed apple orchards and orange trees. As game systems evolved, my son yearned for upgrades and leveraged his argument with promises of the next edition of Animal Crossing. From Nintendo DS to the Wii to the 3DS, I moved into ever-improving software developments. As with many hobbies and fads, though, real-life demanded I put down my controllers where they were soon forgotten.

Then Covid-19 surged, and as with the rest of the world, I went into quarantine. My husband, daughter, and I were locked down together with the same anxieties felt by all. To manage stress, some took up biking, hiking, or yoga. My husband took solace in landscaping our backyard. None of those felt relaxing to me, though, so what could give me a sense of peace in a chaotic world? I called my son to complain, seeing as my daughter and husband had heard the same rant four, five, or six times. He listened to me whining about the boredom, the stress, the anxiety. As I crossed the line from venting into rambling, he cut me off — “why don’t you get the Nintendo Switch so you can play Animal Crossing?” I took a second, ready to explain why nothing could possibly work, but then I realized…that was perfect. I’m an escapist. When stress overwhelms me, I don’t turn inward; I run away. This is why a fifth viewing of Bridesmaids, or my fiction writing, or Animal Crossing can always lift my spirits.

My beautiful garden. Almost as nice as hubby’s real one.

I set up my new island getaway, and my days became filled with transforming a wild, undeveloped territory into a bustling town. While my husband planted azaleas and hydrangeas in our backyard, I was busy doing the same for my virtual neighbors. As my daughter made us salads for lunch, I sold coconuts and pears at Nook’s Cranny. And, as my husband lay awake at night making a mental list of seeds and bulbs he needed to buy, the dirt he’d have to order for the raised garden, and scrolling through his phone to find a shrub to replace the one we’d lost, I was tossing and turning, too. He wasn’t the only one with a crazy schedule. 

My husband recently turned sixty and, given his newfound passion for horticulture, I invested in a greenhouse for his birthday gift. As I was carrying the boxes to the backyard, my daughter appeared in the doorway.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Your father’s new greenhouse,” I said, then, without a transition, immediately continued with the deluge of ideas cascading through my head. “I need to relocate Biff’s house today, and I’ve got to redo that walkway from yesterday. I’m not happy with it. Those red roses that I planted next to the white haven’t produced the hybrid pink yet. Also, if I don’t move the hydrangea—”

“What are you talking about? Is that real life or Animal Crossing?”

Animal Crossing,” I said.

“Your reality,” my daughter said, “is no longer distinguishable from your imaginary world.”

“That’s how I keep sane!”

After another eight-hour day of landscaping, my husband rested in his recliner and complained about his painful shoulder. His hamstrings were in spasm from bending over the flower beds, and his back hurt from hoisting shovelfuls of dirt. As he struggled to his feet, creaking and groaning, he looked at me for sympathy.

“Don’t even try it, bucko,” I told him, setting down the video controller and doing some thumb exercises. “It’s been a hard day for me, too!”

…COVID-wineteen

The hunt for quarantine wine

(This story was written while in quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been blessed to have my daughter at home with me for the duration. Tara is a comedic writer with her undergraduate degree in the Psychology of Comedy. She has been a stand-up comedian and has written numerous plays and short stories with her particular slant toward absurdist comedy. This piece is a collaboration that we spent days toiling over, laughing about, and, of course, drinking wine as we worked. We hope you enjoy it.)

While others have spent their time hunting for cases of toilet paper and gathering bread-baking supplies, I’ve developed the survivalist strategy for my isolation essential. Wine. All-purpose flour? Yeast? How ‘bout a nice Chardonnay.

This panic buying, where people have irrationally decided what they suddenly can’t live without, has caused a complete disintegration of our social norms. Rushing into stores wild-eyed, stalking other shoppers to see what they’re buying, arms flailing as they grab everything remaining from the shelves. Do these folks not remember high school? The cool kids strolling with confidence across the campus on the lookout for signs of weakness? The bullies who relished throwing the outcast up against the lockers or, better yet, into the lockers? The mean girls who scoffed and sneered at the spaz and the dufus? People, calm down and stop looking ridiculous. I don’t want to have to kick your ass.

First, remember to lead by example. Face it. You reek of “uncool” if you race up and down aisles in search of Merlot. Others can smell fear, so never let them know how terrified you are that you may have to resort to Shiraz.

Second, plan ahead. Know your area stores and develop a spreadsheet of who works in each store, what their hours are, and the date you last shopped there. Spend hours on your makeup, cover it with a mask, then visit Bobby at ShopRite Liquors and Jake at Joe Canal’s. Go see Cal over at Bottle King and Sam at Wine Republic. Maintaining your supply of wine is crucial, but experts say safeguarding your mental health is just as important. If you’re stuck in isolation without regular doses of flattery, your state of mind is at risk which means you’ll drink more wine. You’ll feel better, sure, but there’s a fine line between self-medication and simply being wasteful.

Third, look into delivery services as well. My husband gave me a wine subscription gift for Christmas. I’m scheduled to receive six minuscule bottles (570 ML as opposed to the standard 750 ML) a month but, given their tiny size, that equates to what, maybe 1.5 regular bottles? Whatever the math, they’re a nice supplement to your in-person purchases. As I realized that we could be in quarantine for a long time, I started another subscription so I could get twelve bottles per month. But, on the second one, I gave the subscriber name as Docelyn Jorgan so the UPS guy wouldn’t know it was me.

And, fourth, you can increase your purchase amounts when necessary. I was on a lovely schedule of adhering to that 5 o’clock rule, counting down the minutes until I could pop the cork. But, one night as I watched time tick so slowly that I wondered if it was actually standing still, I had the impulse to break every single one of my clocks. That’ll teach them. The following morning, when I realized I wouldn’t know when 5 o’clock struck, I decided to play it safe and drink all day. Then I realized why brunch was invented. I could add a little sparkling white wine to my morning orange juice, and that entire 5 o’clock issue ended up in the trash. With my clocks.

Now that you know how to procure wines, you need to know their countless benefits. The thing I love to do most, after drinking wine, of course, is to eat. I would eat morning, noon, and night if I could. In quarantine, turns out I can. However, if there’s one thing I hate more than being sober, it’s exercise. You might think I should worry about the caloric content of wine. But it’s a fact that drinking wine causes your blood vessels to constrict. The more they constrict, the skinnier I look. So, wine consumption is actually a form of dieting. That’s science.

Some women have a signature perfume that, when they enter a room, their very scent causes heads to turn in recognition. The same holds true for wine. You need to develop your signature wine that becomes an extension of your identity. These days, when I enter a room, I no longer need to yell, “Pinot!” until somebody gives me a glass to stop the screaming. Now, a glass magically appears in my hand.

Wine is not just an accompaniment for all of your meals. Learn to use it generously in your dishes, too. For an appetizer, try a delicious Swiss fondue made with a bottle or so of high-quality dry Riesling. For your main course, I would suggest Swiss fondue made with a bottle or so of high-quality dry Riesling. For dessert, you can try cupcakes with a light champagne frosting or, if you prefer, a Swiss fondue made with a bottle or so of high-quality dry Riesling.

To look at me, you might not guess that I’m a highly accomplished rhymer. Whenever my friends or family need a good rhyme, they call me. I’m going to leave you with a little ditty that I’m particularly proud of.

When you confine, don’t forget the wine.

I like to wine and dine. My husband likes to dine and whine.

Stop giving the wine to a porcupine.

You better stop, the wine is mine.

Spine.

Decline.

Panty-line.